EMMITSBURG, Md. (WDVM) – Mount guard Kendall Bresee was coming off of the best season of her college basketball career. She had just helped lead Mount to it’s first NEC title since 1995, earning a birth in the NCAA Tournament, while also being named the 2021 NEC player of the year.
Just one month after the whirlwind of success, Kendall, and her family’s world would be turned upside down.
Kendall’s younger sister, Ella, had been experiencing excruciating headaches. Headaches so severe that they would wake her up in the middle of the night.
Meghan and Richie Bresee, did what any concerned parent would do and took their youngest of four to the doctor, thinking there would be a simple explanation for the headaches. After visits with the Ella’s pediatrician and even a neurologist, the doctors didn’t suspect anything serious.
Kendall recalls a family trip to Texas Roadhouse the night before Ella was to get an MRI after the headaches worsened.
“Ella liked to eat, she loved her food,” explained Kendall. That night at the western themed restaurant, Ella barely touched her plate – not even the famous rolls with the cinnamon butter. But still, Kendall thought the headaches were nothing serious and thought they were due to lack of hydration from playing basketball.
“We prayed and we hoped for the best but unfortunately we didn’t get what we were hoping for. It was a shock,” said Kendall.
“Meghan called me hysterical,” recalled Richie. “They were still in the process of the MRI when the doctor said that you have to leave here and go directly to Children’s because she had a brain tumor.”
At Children’s hospital in Washington, D.C., Ella was diagnosed with Sonic Hedgehog Medulloblastoma (SHH), which is an aggressive form of brain cancer, and would undergo surgery just five days later.
“Hearing that was I think the hardest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Ella, just 13 years old at the time. “Then I heard all of the things that could happen like not being able to walk, not being able to swallow. Just so many things. Not being able to talk.”
By the grace of God, and the talented team at Children’s, Ella surgery was a success.
“We didn’t realize exactly how long this process was going to be or how much she was going to have to go through,” said Meghan.
A month after surgery, Ella would need to start radiation, which the family decided would be best received at St. Jude’s where they had the best course of treatment for Ella’s particular type of cancer.
“Memphis was just…like being away from my family and friends for that long was just really hard,” said Ella holding back tears.
During her two months of radiation, Ella began to lose her hair, which she eventually shaved off.
“My mom shaved it in the hospital,” which the family now jokes about with Meghan’s hair-cutting talents not being her greatest asset.
“I got over it. I wasn’t that sad. Except when I’m around my friends it’s hard because they all have their long hair,” says Ella now with tears in her eyes.
Ella doesn’t need her long hair. Her beauty radiates from within, but Kendall and the Bresee’s oldest daughter, Bailey, put their heads together, or rather their hair, and knew how they could help their baby sis.
With the idea from a family friend who survived breast cancer, Kendall and Bailey cut off their long locks and sent them to a company that makes what are called “halos,’ which is basically a headband of hair, that is more comfortable than a wig, and is worn with a bandanna or hat and no one suspects a thing.
“That was the best thing, because I was so scared of losing my hair and how I wouldn’t feel confident without hair.”
Ella has been home since the summer as the family elected to have her receive the next course of treatment, chemotherapy, closer to home at Children’s.
Watching Ella fight this battle has taken the toll on those who love her, wishing they could take just an ounce of her pain away.
“She’s going through this horrible thing that I can’t even imagine,” said Kendall. “It just got the point where we can’t do anything. We can’t cure cancer.”
Kendall returned to Mount this season as a graduate student with the goal of getting her team back to defend their NEC title. It was always the plan to return after the success she had last season and with most of the team returning, but she could never have imagined how hard it would be with her heart and mind constantly with her sister.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed and I can’t stop crying. I can’t control myself and then five minutes later I have to get out of the locker room and go be a leader on this team and it’s hard.”
But it’s in Ella where Kendall finds her strength.
“Ella calls me crying sometimes because she can’t be at basketball tryouts, or her best friends are at basketball tryouts, and you know I’m here struggling to go to practice, but you know, I’m doing this for her because I know this is what she wants to do.”
Kendall is currently leading the Mountaineers in scoring, rebounds, and assists while also ranked top five in the NEC in those categories as well.
She has had her team’s back this season despite everything her family is going through and they wanted to let her know that they had hers as well when they surprised her with special warm up shirts that read “Ella Strong” on the back and matching shoes in Ella’s favorite color, pink.
“[Ella] is our good luck charm and I tell her that everyday.”